Air Fryer Ribs are so easy to make and you’ll be surprised how well they turn out, with tender meat and perfect crispy edges.
My preferred method for making baby back ribs has always been oven-baked, because it’s so simple and produces the most tender ribs, but once I started cooking ribs in the air fryer, I’m now of two minds when it comes to ribs.
I will always adore oven-baked ribs and use that method whenever I have time for slow cooking. But these Air Fryer Ribs turn out so amazing after just 20 minutes in the air fryer. It’s so simple. If you have an Instant Pot then you might want to try this recipe for cooking baby back ribs.
For the amount of time you’ll spend cooking these baby back ribs in the air fryer, you will be absolutely amazed at how well they turn out.
I mean, they’re not slow cooked on an outdoor grill for hours – nothing can beat that – but they are darn good for just 30 minutes.
Ingredients In This Dish
- Ribs – This recipe cooks 1 rack of ribs, approx. 1 1/2 to 2 pounds in weight.
- Dry rub – We use our own homemade dry rub. Use your favorite spice blend or try this homemade Cajun seasoning.
- BBQ sauce – We use our own homemade bbq sauce. Use your favorite bbq sauce.
Why Use an Air Fryer
An air fryer is an incredibly easy way to cook just about anything. You place the food in a fryer-style basket and hot air rapidly circulates all around the food, making the food crisp – much like deep-frying, but without the oil. You can cook anything you’d make in the oven.
Dry Rub for Ribs
One of the keys to giving these ribs intense flavor is the dry rub. A perfectly balanced dry rub does wonders for flavor, but also seals in the juices and keeps the ribs from drying out. I swear by this BBQ rib rub.
It’s actually great on all types of meat, not just ribs. You’ll find that we use this rub in many recipes on this site (Tomahawk Pork Chops, Rack of Lamb, Chicken Legs, to name a few). But I think it adds just the right amount of spice to ribs.
The second most important thing is the bbq sauce. We use this homemade Bourbon BBQ Sauce that is so tasty, you’ll be licking it off the spoon. Once you air fry the ribs, slather them with this sauce and set them on the highest setting for a few minutes and they crisp right up with a nice char that will make you think you’ve just cooked them on an open flame.
How to Make Baby Back Ribs in the Air Fryer
1. Remove the Silver Skin (membrane)
One thing you have to remember about preparing ribs is that there’s a thin silver skin or membrane along the back of the ribs. The membrane is a thick skin that holds the ribs together. It can be leathery and tough, so you want to remove it before cooking.
It’s not great to leave it on, because the ribs will be less tender and not as fun to eat.
To remove it is easy. Just turn the ribs over and look for a piece of the membrane around the edges of the meat that you can grab hold of. You can also slide a small knife blade between the silver skin and the ribs and pull up to loosen it.
It is silver in color and forms a very thin layer over the back. When you catch a piece, pull it back, like peeling off a piece of tape. If you get it just right, you can pull the entire membrane off in one piece. Here’s a pictorial to help.
Note: If you can’t locate the membrane, it’s possible the butcher has already removed it.
2. Add the Dry Rub
Next, sprinkle the dry rub across the ribs and rub it all over. Try our dry rub recipe. It’s easy to make and adds tons of flavor.
You can let it sit overnight in the refrigerator with the rub for even more flavor, but it’s not necessary.
The rub adds an extra layer of intense flavor to the ribs. I highly recommend using it. However, if you prefer, you can use a different rub that you like, or just use salt and pepper. Season the ribs liberally.
3. Air Fry the Baby Back Ribs
It’s important to pre-heat the air fryer before putting the ribs in to cook. This allows it to come up to temperature for even cooking, and it keeps the food from sticking to the basket. Set it to 380 degrees F (195 C).
I pre-heat for around 3-5 minutes. Once it’s heated, you can set the ribs into the basket. There’s no need to spray the basket with oil.
You will need to cut the rack of ribs in half, or even in thirds, to fit it into the air fryer, depending on the size of your air fryer. I use a 4.5 quart air fryer and I can fit it when cut in half. The halves overlap a bit in the center, but that doesn’t affect the cooking.
Place meat side down in the air fryer tray and cook for 20 minutes, turning the ribs over after 10 minutes.
4. Baste the Ribs
After the 20 minutes is up, pull out the basket and baste the ribs on both sides with BBQ sauce. Return them, meat side up, to the air fryer.
Crank up the heat to 390 degrees F (200 degrees C) and cook for an additional 3-5 minutes, or until they are a bit charred on top. Brush with additional BBQ sauce and serve.
Frequently Asked Questions
What temperature should ribs be cooked at in the air fryer?
In this recipe, we cook baby back ribs in the air fryer at 380° F for 20 minutes. The biggest decide of how long they must cook at this temperature is the size of the rack of ribs. A rack that is on the small side will likely take around 18 minutes, while a larger rack will take up to 30 minutes. If you cook two racks at once, add 5-8 minutes to the cooking time.
Should I cover ribs when cooking in the air fryer?
No. There’s no need to cover the ribs or put any parchment paper underneath them. The air fryer circulates air around the food to cook it evenly. Covering them will prevent the air flow.
How do you know when ribs are done in the air fryer?
The ribs are done when the internal temperature reaches 175° F (80° C). This is when the meat is tender, but not dried out. The meat won’t recede from the bone or fall apart like it does with slow cooking, so don’t use that as an indication.
Don’t ribs get more tender the longer you cook them?
Yes, ribs become more tender the longer they cook, which is why long, slow cooking is preferred to faster cooking like in the air fryer. However, this is a fast and easy preparation for ribs and the meat turns out juicy an tender without becoming dry.
If you’re looking for he most tender ribs, try our recipe for oven-baked bbq ribs. They cook for 2 hours in the oven and produce amazing falling-off-the-bone ribs.
Should ribs be cooked bone side up or down?
The bony side of the ribs should be facing up for the first 10 minutes of cooking. Then for the last half, you flip the ribs over and cook them with the boney side down. This allows for even cooking, and for crunchy bits to form on the top of the meat.
What to Serve With Baby Back Ribs
Side Dishes to Try
Other BBQ Recipes to Try
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Easy Air Fryer Ribs
- Preheat the air fryer to 380 degrees F (195 C), for 5 minutes.
- Peel off the silver membrane from the back of the ribs. Season the ribs with the dry rub on both sides.
- Cut the rack of ribs in half to fit in the air fryer. Place meat side down in the air fryer tray and cook for 20 minutes, turning the ribs over halfway through the cooking.
- After the 20 minutes is up, pull out the basket and baste the ribs on both sides with BBQ sauce. Return them, meat side up, to the air fryer. Crank up the heat to 390 degrees F (200 degrees C) and cook for an additional 3-5 minutes, or until they are a bit charred on top.. Brush with additional BBQ sauce and serve.
You can cook up to 2 racks of ribs at a time in a large air fryer (5L or larger). You will need to cook them for 30 minutes, changing the arrangement of the pieces every 10 minutes
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Laura is a home cook who loves making new recipes and finding new favorite things to eat, whether at home or abroad. She also runs a popular travel blog and spends a lot of her time traveling for food.